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feet. “ It is you, excellency," she howled, “and you give me alms-me, the lost soul, the false witness, who have stripped you of everything! you, who rested on my heart, to whom I offered my bosom! And for whom have I committed this crime and lost my eternal salvation? For whom else but my godless, ungrateful boy, who now denies his own mother, and revels in her sin! Eccelenza Principe, forgive me, so that I may die in peace. I will recal all my statements, and tell Father Tommaso, who urged me to bear false witness, the principessa, and the whole world, that I lied at that time, and that you are the only true son of the deceased lord. Oh! have mercy on your wretched nurse, eccelenza! Oh, Heaven, you do not know how great the temptation is to be able to give one's child by one word wealth and splendour, and how painful it is to have an ungrateful son. Forgive, principe—forgive a poor sinner!”
Gaetano tried in vain to soothe his old nurse : she continued to beat her breast while shedding streams of tears, to kiss her nursling's knees, and to accuse herself in a loud voice before the constantly augmenting crowd of having listened to the monk's persuasive arguments, and degrading the true scion of a princely family for the sake of her son Baffetto.
At this moment an elegant carriage drove up, in which an elderly gentleman and a young lady were seated. “There he is !" the latter exclaimed, with joy-beaming eyes. “Did you think you could escape me so easily, Don Gaetano ? Did you fancy that your misfortunes were a sufficient reason to fly from me ? Proud fellow, so you only thought of yourself.”
It was the English lady, who had heard of the misfortunes of her affianced husband at Naples, and had followed him in her father's company, with the firm resolution of offering her hand to her nameless and poor lover.
Her noble feelings were rewarded. Too many witnesses had been present at the voluntary confession of old Anna for Father Tommaso to be able to intimidate her, and force her to recal it. She repeated her statement before a magistrate, and revealed the whole of the intrigue concocted against Gaetano. He was solemnly restored to his rank and property, and Father Tommaso was removed to a distant monastery-I believe at Palazuolla. The princess went into the convent of the noble nuns of Santa Eufemia, through vexation at being deceived by her confidant, and seeing her hated son in possession of all his inheritance.
Baffetto, when he was told of his dethronement, burst into a loud " Accidente !” but resigned himself with marvellous composure, and returned to a private condition. Once again he enthroned himself in his beloved corner-post of the Via Felice, he has allowed his beard to grow again, acts as model, shaves poodles now and then, and is president as before of the Café Gnocchi. “When I was Prince of Castrucci,” is the commencement of most of his tales. I can recommend Baffetto with a safe conscience to all my friends who visit Rome. He is the besttempered fellow in the world, unpretending and modest, in spite of his four weeks of princedom, and ready to oblige, and even honest, whenever his trousers-pockets have not got a hole in them, and he then, in absence of mind, allows the money entrusted to him to fall through.
SIX WEEKS AT HUNSDON MANOR.
It is an old saying, and a true one, that“ fact is stranger than fiction." Failing to bear this time-honoured maxim in mind, we are often apt to condemn too hastily the production of some writer who has placed before tus the creation of his vivid imagination in the shape, it may be, of a tale or story, the startling or fearful details of which, although succeeding in exciting our deep interest, yet at the same time elicit from us the accusation of improbability, the severest judgment that any literary effort-be it great or small-can meet with, as everything of the kind is meritorious only as it approximates to the real. In books, as in works of art, it is the true delineation of nature that comprises both the charm and the merit of each. But before we refuse our credence to the truth, or to the appearance of it, in similar cases, we must determine our standard of probability; and if we glance into the chronicles of many a seemingly quiet life, we shall perhaps find there recorded events and even tragedies, the incontrovertible proofs of which, admitting of no doubt or question, will cause us to retract our hastily-formed judgment, and force us to the acknowledgment that there are truths stranger than fiction !
I justify this opinion to myself by the recollection of a circumstance which happened in a country-house where I was once staying-a circumstance engraven on my mind with the vivid freshness of yesterday, and which, after a lapse of four years, arises at times unbidden to memory, fraught with all the horrors of a scene, the details of which were related to me by the principal person concerned in it.
One morning, in the early part of the month of September, 1858, I found myself in London, with the pleasing prospect before me of a three weeks' leave of absence from my diplomatic duties at
I sat down to my late breakfast with the satisfactory feeling of having 20 more arduous task in view than the agreeable one of sketching out the programme of my anticipated holiday. I had previously intended going straight down to my old home in Northamptonshire, but this purpose was frustrated by the absence of my family, whose return from the Continent had been deferred to the end of the month.
Three weeks of solitary seclusion, enlivened only by the daily visitation of the old housekeeper, my quondam nurse, Mrs. Roberts, appeared dismal ia perspective, and the realisation of such a prospect would, I felt convinced, prove intolerable. To be sure there were my cousins at the rectory, but I own I don't care for cousins; that is to say, I have an objection to the relationship; it is too near, and yet too distant; too near, for the reason that you have been always accustomed to the pretty face, which you have known through all its successive stages, from the time that its owner was the baby beauty of the nursery up to the present period, when she is
Standing with reluctant feet,
Womanhood and childhood fleet-
and you are almost unconscious of the fact of her development into a lovely and graceful young woman, until it is recalled to your notice by some friend, not equally blind, who exclaims, “ By Jove! old boy, what a lovely cousin you have! You never mentioned her! Afraid of poachers, eh?" or some such phrase, instinct with suspicious meaning; the insinuation contained in which falls pointless on your innocent mind, guiltless as you are of any motive for wishing to conceal the existence of the pretty cousin in question. Her lovely face has never possessed for you the charm of novelty; and this, be it marginally observed, is a very essential one in the primary stage of a flirtation! You have walked with her, ridden with her—have scolded her and coaxed her, by turnsbut, all the while, she has only been to you your little cousin—your dear little cousin-nothing more! Your pulses have never quickened to the influence of her beauty—your hand has never trembled at the touch of her soft palm-the bright glances of her deep blue eyes have failed to move the depths of your torpid soul! And why are you thus exempt from the sweet spell of her existence ?-why can you not enjoy the charm of her lovely womanhood ? Simply because habit has denied to you the appreciation of them! Too distant is the same relationship; as, however close and intimate the terms of your companionship may be—though your cousin may possibly be, in conjunction with your sister, the confidante of all your projects and your plans, the sympathiser in your hopes and your fears, yet there is a line of demarcation, across which neither she nor you can pass! She is not a sister, though bearing a close affinity to one. Fond and familiar as your intercourse with her may be, there are times when you feel that the perfect and delightful unreserve characterising the relationship of brother and sister, can never exist between you and your cousin.
Holding, therefore, this doctrine on the subject of cousinship, the fact of there being a whole rectory full of my charming relatives close to the park gates did not, in the smallest degree, tend to dissipate the weariness of a prospective three weeks at home, under present circumstances.
I consequently determined that such a proceeding, on my part, would be a wilful waste of the time I had resolved to make the most of in the way of enjoyment, limited, too, as it already appeared to me.
No schoolboy appreciates more keenly the delights of the longed-for “ Midsummer break-up” than I do my occasional “ hours of idleness," spent, as they invariably are, in the dear old country.
Do not, from this avowal, draw the conclusion, dear reader, that I am discontented with the profession to which I belong. It is one peculiarly in accordance with the ambitious side of my character, rendering thereby the work of it congenial to my taste, for through its medium I see the end that can, and consequently is, to be gained.
A distaste, however, to continental manners and customs being one o my idiosyncrasies, life in a foreign capital is to me wearisome and un satisfactory in the extreme.
The people, the society, and the amusements may, perhaps, strike thi imagination at first by their freedom from our insular habits of reservi and by their undeniable brilliancy; but a short acquaintance with then (in my estimation) suffices to break the spell of their very ephemera charm, and I turn, regretfully and yearningly, to the contrast afforde by English life and English homes.
On the morning in question my breakfast-table was covered with letters, some of which had arrived by the early post, whilst others had been awaiting my arrival for some days past.
I knew, by intuition, that they all, more or less, contained invitations from my numerous friends and acquaintances, and I sat idly contemplating their different postmarks, enjoying, in anticipation, he pleasant perplexity of “l'embarras du choix," until the hot rays of a bright September sun, streaming in at the window, reminded me that partridge shooting had commenced, and that no place is more triste than London when every one has left it.
The first letter that I opened was from my little sister Amy, full of regrets "that I should have arrived in England before them,” and beseeching me “not to go down and bore myself all alone at the Hall before their return,” which sensible injunction coincided with the resolution I had already formed. “The waters had done my father worlds of good,” so she wrote, “and he had been persuaded to remain some time longer at Homburg.” As I had never heard that he had been indisposed, this statement of Any's completely mystified me until I arrived at the postscript, proverbially containing the essence and meaning of a woman's letter : " By the way, I must not forget to tell you that Lord Medway arrived last Monday, and we are having the jolliest pic-nics. He begged to be particularly remembered to you.” On reading these few words a new light dawned upon me, for it occurred to me that Medway's name had often figured in Amy's letters of late, and I at once dismissed from my mind all concern on my father's account, convinced that the arrival in question was more nearly connected with the little hypocrite's evident reluctance to return than was the dutiful reason she assigned, or rather implied. The heart of woman is deep, though not desperately wicked. My surmises as to the nature of my correspondence proved correct. Invitations from all parts of the kingdom poured in upon me, and I was debating which should meet with my first acceptance, when my eye glanced upon an unopened letter, bearing handwriting the sight of which carried me back to old “ Foreign-office" days, when the same very peculiar caligraphy had often been a source of amusement to all of us there, and which could belong to no other than my old friend and colleague, Guy Aylmer.'
Chance had thrown us much together in our profession, and long association had ripened our acquaintance into a warm and intimate friend. ship. Three years back we had parted at Vienna, he on his way to England, and I on mine to the mission at — ; but though we had not met since, a tolerably active correspondence had been sustained between us, through the channel of which Guy had lately announced to me his intention of quitting the solitary state of bachelorhood.
As he was the only son of Sir Robert Aylmer, Bart., and heir to a Tery considerable property, this proceeding on his part would not seem to the world at large otherwise than a most natural one ; indeed, Guy having already attained the age of thirty-four, the fact of his having lingered so long in the independence of celibacy was a matter of no little surprise to his friends in general. I confess, however, to experiencing a feeling akin to astonishment on receiving the intimation of his engagement; my long and close acquaintance with Guy Aylmer had led to the disco very of certain peculiarities in his character which would, I felt,
render the selection of a wife an undertaking of no small difficulty to him.
Possessed of the highest intellectual attainments, and gifted with the irresistible charm of manner and address, Aylmer was as well qualified to be the delightful companion of domestic life as he was pre-eminently so to shine in he world he lived in. His character was remarkable for decision and undeviating truth, which, in addition to the most unselfish disposition I have ever met with in man, combined to render him a person to be loved, and a friend of whom to be proud. At variance, nevertheless, with these higher qualities were the veins of superciliousness and distrust with wbich Aylmer's nature was strongly tinctured. Herein lay the grand failing of his character, the subsequent bane of his enjoyment. He could not, or would not, believe in a bright side of poor human nature, and taking, therefore, no pains to distinguish between the genuinely good and the well-masked evil, he classed all under the same head, treating society in the light of a theatre, where he only applauded the actors in proportion as their imitation was successful.
Guy was a popular man, and in the world he was liked and his society courted, but he accepted the universal suffrage in his favour with the same civilly contemptuous indifference as would have characterised his reception of general dislike. He would have estimated both at the same valuation. Et is true that there were some few exceptions to the rule he maintained; and to these he clung, perhaps, all the more closely and confidingly, separated as they were, in his own imagination, from the general mass of counterfeits. In regard to women, his code remained unaltered; he held them as the loveliest creation of nature ; he appreciated to the utmost extent the refinement and charm of their society ; but his heart was never touched by them, and he had passed scathless through the dangerous ordeal of mapy a London season unwon and unwed.
Guy was at times to me a mystery, for I could not reconcile this cynicism with other attributes that he possessed. I knew that, underlying it, there existed a high appreciation of, and a deep reverence for, all that was true and good in this world. Sometimes when in the confidence of unreserved conversation, he would, half bitterly, half mournfully, sketch out his ideal of life, and contrast it with his experience of the actual—I have felt deep regret that a man, capable of yielding such trust and devotion, should deliberately mar his own prospects of happiness by the fallacy he so obstinately adhered to. A feeling of triumph mingled with the very great satisfaction I felt on hearing of Guy's engagement; and I rejoiced to think that my sardonic friend had at length been induced to lower his lance in honour of the sex he had affected to despise--fairly vanquished on his own terms-compelled henceforth to abjure the wretched creed he had so long professed !
My curiosity was strongly aroused touching the fair cause of his conversion, for whose sake he had condoned the faithlessness of the human species.
To do Guy justice, I must affirm that he had displayed no shamefaced reticence in his communications on the subject. He had candidly acknowledged, that “where prejudice is strong, the judgment may be weak !” and, accordingly, I felt bound to forget his previous apostasy.
From him I learned that his accidental meeting with Ethel Mordaunt